Today on Blogcritics


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While it’s debatable whether Dave Chappelle has the best mouth in the biz, there’s no doubt, in my humble opinion, that David LaChapelle has the best eye.

Whether it’s his photograph of Alicia Keys next to a flaming pink piano or his commercial of Hootie hawking the Whopper or his music video of J. Lo channeling Flashdance, the man knows how to use colors, flesh, and the surreal to capture attention. His touch is so distinct that it’s easy to guess when he’s the auteur behind the lens.

So naturally, I was looking forward to Rize, his debut film and his new documentary on the culture of “krumping” and “clowning,” two related forms of dancing that rose from the ashes of the 1992 LA riots.

How to describe it? Spawned by Tommy the Clown, this amazing artform reminds me of the dancing I once did at a party when the DJ played 2 Live Crew’s “Hoochie Mama” after I grundlechugged my seventh Mountain Dew/Jolt cocktail without taking my anti-seizure medication … during an earthquake.

The frenetic convulsions are so fast that the film begins with a disclaimer that none of the footage was sped up. In the event you haven’t seen it, watch this.

Quite honestly, when I was hit with this cinematic barrage of addictive and adrenaline-inducing movement, I wanted to get out of my movie theater seat and join them. But alas, I couldn’t because I would have died ten seconds into my routine from nacho cramps and Milk Duds vomit.

The strange thing about Rize is that there are only a few moments — a blue sky here, a pink wall there — reminiscent of LaChapelle’s vivid work. This documentary is simply the reflection of a man so fascinated with a subculture that he believed it would speak for itself. Thus, there’s no narration, no fancy camera tricks, and no flaming pianos.

The people documented in this movie are so captivating that I’m sure I still would have enjoyed watching them even if Stevie Wonder filmed it guerilla-style on his cell phone camera. I could just view unedited footage of Miss Prissy and the little kids all day, and apparently, so can LaChapelle. But thankfully, his film presents a loose narrative complete with punchlines, drama, climactic showdowns, tragedy, and victory.

Even if you hate dancing or documentaries or movies, the slamming soundtrack is worth the $10 price of admission. Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp” never sounded so good. I even shed a tear when Alice Ridley sang “Amazing Grace.”

Given that LaChapelle discovered these dancers while filming the Christina Aguilera video “Dirrty,” I was worried this movie was going to exploit the South Central community. But, as of yet, it largely avoids this pitfall.

I do have a few minor complaints with the film, however.

For starters, the preachy messages in the film- “sky’s the limit,” “inner city kids need an outlet to express themselves,” “dancing is positive, harmless fun” – get shoved down your throat about 57 too many times. Some of the proselytizing even comes in the form of literal preaching, with LaChapelle linking krumping with the black church.

On a similar note, I was uncomfortable with a subtle insinuation – common in Hollywood portrayals of ‘urban life’- that were it not from krumping [or insert other extracurricular activity], these black inner city youth would be turning to a life of gangs and crime.

Also, in one dance sequence, footage of the dancers is interspersed with Leni Riefenstahl’s 1970s archival footage of dancing by the Nuba tribe. What is the point of this? Other than to say, hey look — older generations of African people liked to paint their faces and dance too!

On a technical note, why don’t we ever get to hear the original music they were dancing to? Given that the soundtrack includes 2Pac songs, were the legal clearances for the original music that expensive or difficult? At times, the dubbed music seems a tad off from the dancers, but of course, it’s hard to say. This left me wondering what the boombox was originally playing and what noises the crowds made. Did everyone stare in silence or scream as if at a step show? What if the posses were dancing to Michael Bolton? I might be hating Krumpers right now.

On balance, however, Rize is a tremendous documentary and easily the start of something big.

Go watch it now before your grandkids have to explain it to you.

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